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President Trump Speaks Out on North Korea Summit; White House Press Briefing. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired May 22, 2018 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I don't think it was a great meeting. Nobody knew about the meeting.
And, all of a sudden, it was reported that he was in China a second time. The first time, everybody knew about. The second time, it was like a surprise.
And I think things changed after that meeting. So I can't say that I'm happy about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: With me now, CNN global affairs analyst Joseph Yun, who just retired after being the U.S. point person for North Korea. He secured the release of American Otto Warmbier from North Korea.
So, Joe, it's nice to have you back and talk to you again.
Let's just begin with President Trump. He seemed to insinuate that it was China, right, that it was Xi who may have been the one to have moved Kim away from this whole summit. Does that explain Trump recently blinking on China?
What role -- how key is China here in this whole summit?
JOSEPH YUN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I would say it is entirely consistent with the Chinese position to want to slow this down.
They are worried. I mean, yesterday, we heard Vice President Pence saying, you know, President Trump will not get played. I think the Chinese are telling Kim Jong-un, don't get played by Trump. So, it is consistent.
What China wants is, above all, to have action for action, slow it down, see how it goes. What Washington wants is immediate and quick denuclearization.
And I would say, right now, after two meetings with the Chinese leader, certainly, Kim Jong-un is getting some second thoughts. BALDWIN: And is it -- I read that you say between -- we're talking
Kim and then the two men today, Trump and Moon, you say it's actually Moon who has the most at stake, that it's South Korea. Why do you say that?
YUN: Well, it was, of course, Moon's idea, beginning with just after he got elected, ramping it up during the Winter Olympic Games, and now a bit of shuttle diplomacy going back and forth.
More than that, his whole domestic policy platform, domestic politics, is based on this. Now, remember, one day after the Singapore meeting, June 13, there are very important regional elections in South Korea, where he's leading by a whole bunch.
So there are electoral reasons for Moon, as well history reasons, and so he has the most at stake.
BALDWIN: And he's one who floated the notion of a Nobel Peace Prize for President Trump, right, depending on how this whole thing goes.
President Trump, one of the headlines that came out of this whole meeting was that he guaranteed Kim Jong-un's personal safety.
Here he was.
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TRUMP: I will guarantee his safety, yes. We will guarantee his safety. And we have talked about that from the beginning.
He will be safe. He will be happy. His country will be rich. His country will be hardworking and very prosperous. They're very great people. They're hardworking, great people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: When you hear that President Trump, Joe, is guaranteeing the safety of Kim, how can he do that, and that he will be rich and happy, et cetera?
YUN: Well, I think this is fundamental misunderstanding of where North Korea is.
Now, Kim Jong-un and North Koreans think they are negotiating from position of strength. They have the nuclear weapons. They have ICBM. So they're saying, why us? You guarantee our security? No, hold on there. We're not going to go in there with the idea of surrendering immediately, which is what the demand from Washington is.
So there is this huge mismatch between the expectations in Washington and in Pyongyang.
BALDWIN: But on the mismatch and the expectations, if North Korea -- and that's a big if -- if North Korea agrees to give up their nukes, they're going to want something in exchange.
What is that something, you think?
YUN: Their something is complete security guarantee, regime survival.
And, quite honestly, we can give no first attack security guarantee, that we will not be attacking first, but we cannot guarantee personal security. We cannot guarantee regime security. We cannot control what the North Korean people do themselves.
BALDWIN: Despite what the president did guarantee today.
This is happening. The backdrop, Joseph Yun, is, North Korea has invited a select few journalists to witness the closing of one of its nuclear sites.
And our own correspondent is there in North Korea as well. Watch.
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WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're going to be traveling to the North Korean mountains, to the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
To give you a sense of just how remote this area is, we are going to have to take a train from here in Wonsan on North Korea's east coast, about 11 hours into the mountains. Then it's a four-hour drive beyond that, maybe more if the roads are bad because of the weather, and then an additional at least one-hour hike after that just to get to the nuclear test site at Punggye-ri, where North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests since 2006.
This is a place that has never been seen by foreign journalists before. The North Koreans say that they're being transparent here, that they're bringing us, the press, to show you the destruction of their nuclear site, the implosion of tunnels, the removal of buildings and researchers and guards, the shutdown of the entire area.
Some skeptics say that this is all for show, that the facilities could easily be rebuilt, that the nuclear test site may have been damaged irreparably after last year's nuclear test that triggered a 6.3- magnitude earthquake.
But the North Koreans say that's not the case. They say this is a good-faith gesture that they are willing to work with the United States and its allies to give up the nuclear weapons ahead of these crucial planned talks in Singapore next month between the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, and President Trump.
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BALDWIN: Joe, a U.S. defense official also just told CNN that many in the administration think that the closing of that test site is just a total P.R. stunt. Is it?
YUN: Well, we don't know. We really don't know. We don't have enough information. But, certainly, the number of steps
North Korea has taken, including closing of that plant, as well not testing nuclear ICBM, I would say is not insignificant.
And they have some right to feel they have taken the first steps, and they want to see the next steps from Washington. I think the gap is so wide now, and really President Moon has his work cut out for him.
BALDWIN: Joseph Yun, thank you.
YUN: Thank you.
BALDWIN: During that meeting with South Korea's leader, President Trump was also asked about his demand that the Justice Department look into the FBI or Justice Department infiltrated or surveilled the Trump campaign for political purposes.
At issue, the FBI's use of this confidential source. President Trump didn't refer to this person as that. He kept using the word spy. Here he was.
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TRUMP: A lot of people are saying they had spies in my campaign. If they had spies in my campaign, that would be a disgrace to this country. That would be one of the biggest insults that anyone has ever seen and it would be very illegal.
It would make probably every political event look like small potatoes. But if they had spies during my campaign, for political purposes, that would be unprecedented in the history of our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: With me now journalist, author, CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein.
Nice to see you again.
CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good to be with you.
BALDWIN: First of all, just the president's use of the word spy, the correct phrase is confidential source, yet spy sounds more nefarious, yes?
BERNSTEIN: Well, he meant it to be nefarious, because what the president did today is really to abuse his authority, as he has been doing, to intervene in a legitimate investigation into his conduct, the conduct of his family, the conduct of his campaign related to what happened in the presidential campaign and whether the Russians intervened, with aid from his campaign.
This is a legitimate investigation that, at every turn, he tries to undermine and demean. And this is part of the cover-up, what we are watching, a cover-up by the president of the United States.
BALDWIN: Isn't that what so much of this is about, is undermining Mueller?
BERNSTEIN: Of course.
BALDWIN: Undermining -- we don't know how the end of -- what the end of the movie is, right, but whatever the findings, this would undermine it.
BERNSTEIN: Well, look, that's what he sought to do go from the beginning, is to cast doubt on the press, on the investigation, on the Democrats, to make the conduct of everybody else involved, except himself, his aides and his family, the issue here.
But I think what you just said -- take a look at what Chris Christie said today about Mueller. He said -- and he told the president this -- he said that Bob Mueller himself is not a partisan. "He's a hardworking guy. He's smart. And you can't argue that the investigation hasn't been effective. So, far a number of guilty pleas, a couple of indictments in a year. Pretty good work."
"And, as I have said all along" -- to the president, he means -- "Bob Mueller's honesty or integrity never have been questioned and shouldn't be. And having worked with him for seven years, I still wouldn't question his integrity."
I might have read a word or two of that wrong there. But, basically, here you have Chris Christie, the advocate during the campaign for Donald Trump, saying, look, look...
BALDWIN: He's a good guy.
BERNSTEIN: He's not only a good guy. He is conducting a legitimate investigation that's making progress. Leave it alone.
The president, by contrast, will not leave it alone, as this investigation is closing in on him and members of his family. That's what we're witnessing.
And what's so extraordinary is that it is being -- his cover-up is being aided and abetted by Republicans in Congress and helped by his base, rather than seeking the facts here. Look...
BALDWIN: Let me -- on that note, Carl, Adam Schiff is the one who says history will judge this Congress harshly for not being strong enough to act against actions such as...
BERNSTEIN: I think history will judge everybody, including journalists, including members of Congress, including the Republican Party, what they did at this juncture of our history, when this abuse of power and authority and cover-up by the president of the United States occurred. And none of that is to say, incidentally, that this cover-up is necessarily an obstruction of justice. We don't know all the things Trump is trying to keep us from knowing.
But we do there is a cover-up and that if, as he says, there's no there there, there's no collusion there, even though we have seen members of his family, his closest aides invite with enthusiasm collusion at the Trump Tower meeting and elsewhere, ask for collusion, "I love it," to quote his son at the prospect of a collusion to the give the Trump campaign information from the Russians.
So, this is a cover-up. And that's what we need to keep our eyes on. And he is trying to interfere in this investigation. And what we have seen from the deputy attorney general, Rosenstein, is trying to protect and keep this investigation alive...
BERNSTEIN: ... before Trump shuts it down, which Trump has told people around him he is intent on doing.
BALDWIN: Right. One of the questions in the pool spray was about the deputy attorney general, and on that, the president wouldn't answer on Rod Rosenstein in front of Moon Jae-in, yet at the same time went on the tirade with regard to this being a disgrace to the country.
So, there's that.
Stick around with me, Carl Bernstein. I want more from you, as we wait for Sarah Sanders to take to that podium for the White House daily briefing, live pictures inside the room.
The journalists are ready to roll.
Quick break. We will be right back.
BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN on a Tuesday.
Live pictures inside that White House Press Briefing Room as we wait for Sarah Sanders to take to that podium and answer a lot of questions, especially out of all the headlines that came out of the president' meeting there, where he answered a lot of questions on this whole upcoming summit with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un. Forgive me.
And he was sitting there with the president of South Korea, President Moon.
So, let's go to Pamela Brown, who is standing by, our senior White House correspondent in that Briefing Room.
Pamela, I mean, so many headlines made. Where do you want to begin? Oh, here she is.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: ... starting, Brooke.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... significant conversations on important issues, including the scheduled U.S.-North Korea summit.
Both leaders are committed to working together to accomplish the common goal of complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
As you also know, it's commencement season. And the president and first lady would like to extend a special graduations to World War II veteran Bob Barger; 68 years since he last sat in a classroom, Bob graduated from the University of Toledo this month after a review of his transcripts from the late 1940s showed he completed enough courses to qualify for an associate's degree.
As the president said in his letter to Bob, his hard work, diligence and passion to learn exemplify the greatest generation's commitment to excellence and the American spirit.
And, as you know, the president took a number of questions earlier, so will keep this short today.
And with that, I will get started.
QUESTION: Sarah, do you agree with the -- do you agree with the South Korean official who said that there would be a 99 percent chance that this summit with Kim Jong-un comes off?
And what will -- how will the president ultimately makes the decision about whether or not to go?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president addressed this earlier directly to you, and said we will see what happens.
We continue to prepare for the summit. And if they said to meet, we will certainly be ready. And the president, I think rightly, stated that, if North Korea agrees to denuclearize, that it can be a bright future for them.
But we remain clear-eyed in these negotiations, but we continue to prepare, and we will see what happens.
QUESTION: What preconditions, though, does he have? What does he see that the North Koreans have to do to make him make that trip?
And let me just ask you. I know the challenge coins were made. Was it premature to make those coins (OFF-MIKE) summit?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: So, on the first part of your question, the president's laid out what he wants to see as a commitment to denuclearization. That has not changed.
In terms of the coins, this is not something that the White House has anything to do with. We don't have any input on the design, the manufacture, the process in any capacity.
This is a standard procedure by the White House communications agency, which is made up exclusively of career military officials. And these coins are designed and done by that organization.
BROWN: Thank you, Sarah.
Why has the U.S. guaranteed the safety of a dictator whose regime is a serial human rights abuser and is responsible for the recent death of an American college student? Why is that the morally right thing to do?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, the goal and the purpose of these conversations would be to have complete and total denuclearization of the peninsula, and the president has been up front about that part of the conversation. And we're going to continue to move forward.
BROWN: Just a follow-up, though, Sarah, really quickly.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sorry, I'm going to keep moving, just because we're going to be really short today.
Major, go ahead.
QUESTION: Sarah, you talked about preparations for the summit.
Can you describe for us how the president himself is personally preparing? Who is he working with? How much time does he devote on a daily basis to get ready for the underlying themes, questions and difficulties of a summit of this magnitude?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: As you all know, he spent a significant amount of time meeting both in person and having regular phone conversations with other world leaders, like you saw today with South Korean President Moon, as well as he has constant and regular meetings with his national security team.
This is something they talk about on the daily basis and will continue to in preparation.
QUESTION: Thanks, Sarah.
I want to ask about this meeting the chief of staff is setting up with lawmakers regarding documents that they requested about the Russia investigation.
Can you say what specific documents the lawmakers will be allowed to see? Chairman Nunes has requested all documents related to this intelligence source. Will he get to see all of the documents?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: That's something that you would have to ask the Department of Justice. I can tell you the president asked Chief of Staff Kelly to set up the meeting. It is scheduled to take place on Thursday of this week.
The individuals that are expected to attend are Chairman Nunes, Chairman Gowdy, FBI Director Wray, DNI Director Coats, and DOJ official Ed O'Callaghan. No one from the White House staff will attend.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.
The North Koreans are bringing in some journalists to view what they say is the dismantling of a nuclear test site. I'm curious if the administration believes that site is already damaged, as some are led to believe, and what exactly the administration's response is to this.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't have anything that I can comment on that at this front.
QUESTION: Yes, Sarah.
Can you tell us what was the outcome of the discussions between the South Korean president and President Trump today about the size and cost of U.S. troops in South Korea?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The focus, at least in the meeting that I was in, that specifically did not come up. But certainly conversations primarily centered around preparations towards the scheduled summit.
QUESTION: You said that no one from the White House staff will attend the meeting on Thursday. Does that not mean that the chief of staff, Kelly, would not attend?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: He was charged with coordinating and making sure it took place, but at this point is not expected to attend.
QUESTION: Can you ask -- can you respond a little bit, though, to why no Democrats would be at that meeting, if the White House is putting its imprimatur on it? The Democrats have said that they think it's inappropriate to have a meeting set up with just Republicans and the Justice Department.
Is the White House -- would the White House welcome Democrats to be at that meeting?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: We will keep you posted. My understanding is, they haven't been the ones requesting this information.
QUESTION: But they say -- they say they -- they say that to the extent the White House is sort of brokering a deal between the Justice Department and...
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I would hardly call brokering a deal to set -- help coordinate a meeting and help Congress receive information that they have requested.
To my knowledge, the Democrats have not requested that information, so I would refer you back to them on why they would consider themselves randomly invited to see something they have never asked to.
QUESTION: Sarah, the president spoke at length this morning about his vision or solution to dealing with Chinese company ZTE. Both Republicans and Democrats on the Hill are criticizing that, saying that he is bowing to pressure from Beijing.
Senator Schumer, I believe, called it a wet noodle solution. What's the White House's response to that criticism?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The U.S. and China relationship has a number of issues that we're constantly having conversations, national security, trade. ZTE is among one of those.
And this is something that the president has asked Commerce to look into. And he's outlined some possible actions against ZTE by Commerce. But, at this point, they're still in discussion. And there's nothing else to add beyond what the president already said this morning.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) response to their criticism about what he has said on Capitol Hill?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Like I have said a few times before, Senator Schumer is not somebody this White House is probably ever going to take advice from on how to negotiate or get a good deal on anything, particularly based on his track record, and certainly I think his weakness when it comes to China.
We finally have a president who is actually calling out China on their unfair trade practices, and not just calling them out, but actually doing something about it, and aggressively pushing forward in negotiations, something that we haven't seen in decades.
And so Senator Schumer is probably the last person we would call and ask for on how to make a deal.
Anita. QUESTION: I wanted to change topics.
And I wanted to get your comment on this incident that happened at the EPA earlier today. They were having a national summit on water contaminants. At least two reporters were barred from going into the event, and one was forcibly removed.
I wondered if you had a comment. Did you approve of -- do you approve of how that was handled? And will anyone you be speaking to the press office over there about it?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Certainly, we will look into the matter. I have seen the reports.
I know EPA has put out a statement. At this point, I would refer you to them, as we look into the incident. I don't have a lot of visibility, since certainly we weren't there. And we're in other meetings here, but something we are certainly going to look into. But, at this point, I would refer you to the statement the EPA put out.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, I can't speak to a situation that I don't have a lot of visibility into. But I would refer you back to their statement.
QUESTION: Sarah, back to North Korea just for a second.
The president in the Oval Office said that he was disappointed that, after his second meeting with Xi Jinping, Kim Jong-un seemed to have a change of attitude. Does the White House have any theories as to why that might be? Is China a spoiler, and why?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president spoke to this directly. There is nothing else to add at this point.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) anything more about the president's comments? He said that China, South Korea and Japan were willing to invest very large sums of money into North Korea.
Can you add anything more to that? Is the U.S. planning to add to that very large sum? Can you describe what kind of money he's talking about there?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't have anything to add beyond the president's comments. I think he...
QUESTION: Can you talk at all about what President Moon said about Kim, about the new tenor coming out of Pyongyang, what President Trump learned in the meeting with President Moon?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: We felt like the conversations today were productive. And, again, we're going to continue in preparations, and we will see what happens.
QUESTION: Sarah, to follow up on Anita, and then a question as well to you, is there any situation, barring a security incident, in which you feel the White House feels it is appropriate to physically touch or physically handle a reporter?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not going to weigh into random hypotheticals that may or may not exist.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I don't know any information about this specific incident. You're asking me to...
HUCKABEE SANDERS: No, you're asking me to speak to a -- blanket possibilities, which I'm not going to do, nor would I ever ask or expect you to do.
QUESTION: Sorry, I'm going to do one question at a time today, because we are short on time.
John, go ahead.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sorry.
John, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Sorry. I'm going to keep moving. We're tight on time. Thanks.
QUESTION: There's been considerable discussion back and forth about the tenure of Speaker Ryan, whether he will relinquish his gavel early, and have a new election of a speaker before the elections.
Conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill made it clear that they want Ryan to stay. Congressman Warren Davidson said that's unfair to the new members coming in. And he also said that there should be a discharge position, so members can have an up-and-down vote on repeal of the Affordable Care Act and immigration.
Does the president agree with the statements of Congressman Davidson and the conservatives among House Republicans?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I haven't spoken with him specifically about that statement. So I wouldn't want to wage into that right now.
QUESTION: Thanks a lot, Sarah.
The president earlier today in that press availability spoke about the protections that he's prepared to offer to Kim Jong-un, not only personally, but also for his country.
In preparing for these meetings, and when the summit actually takes place, does human rights play any consideration in the meeting that the president will have with Kim Jong-un?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I'm not going to get ahead of the discussion that the president and Kim Jong-un could have. But, certainly, we would expect that that would be -- come up and be addressed.
QUESTION: Following up on John's earlier question, does the president back Speaker Ryan's decision to stay in office until after the election? Or is he concerned that there is maybe a period of time when he's not getting as much done as he could, serving as a lame-duck speaker?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Yes, at this point, that's something for Speaker Ryan and members of Congress to make that determination, not something that the White House has weighed into at this point.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.
We heard from President Trump before that meeting with President Moon, but after sitting down with him, does President Trump feel more like this summit is worth having, and that it will happen? And what is the White House's drop-dead date, so to speak, before deciding whether or not to go to the summit?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Again, we're going to continue to prepare, and we will see what happens.
There's really nothing to add beyond that at this point.
We will take one last question.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sarah.
I wanted to ask about Gaza. The violence continued today. Does the White House have any plans to meet with the Palestinian Authority?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: There are no scheduled meetings at this point. But if something changes, we will certainly let you guys know.
Thanks so much. Have a great day.
BALDWIN: All right, so, Carl Bernstein with me here.
And let's just run through some of what we heard, beginning with this Thursday meeting. The White House says a meeting between the Justice Department officials and lawmakers that Trump requested will happen Thursday.
And so one of the questions, it was -- this was Nunes and Gowdy, Republicans, who want this information from the DOJ, and the Democrats are saying, no, you shouldn't be turning over your confidential information and your confidential source.
And so somebody asked Sarah, are Democrats invited to this meeting? And she said, we will keep you posted, but no one has shown interest.
Shouldn't the meeting be bipartisan?
BERNSTEIN: It should be.